Consumer Tips

PROTECTING YOURSELF IN A COMPLEX MARKETPLACE — Our researchers and attorneys provide key tips for how you can shop for the best bank, get the best car loan, protect against identity theft, and more.

The Best Ways to Protect Yourself

Being a consumer in today’s marketplace can be tough. Financial decisions in particular often require navigating a torrent of misleading advertisements and pages of jargon-filled small print. Even the simplest choices — everyday financial decisions like opening a credit card, creating a bank account, applying for a loan, or sorting through cell phone contracts — can take time, energy and knowledge that too many of us don’t have.
   
Many financial institutions don’t set out to make it easier for their customers:

  • 1 out of every 20 Americans — millions of consumers — have errors on their credit reports significant enough to raise their rate on loans.
  • Financing cars through dealerships costs consumers more than $25.8 billion in additional hidden interest.
  • From 2005 to 2010, identity theft rose by 33%. In 2012, an estimated 12.6 million Americans became victims. That is 1 victim every 3 seconds. 
  • Banks made around $11 billion in overdraft fees in 2015, fees they pitched as “overdraft protection” but actually cost consumers more.

Despite these practices, there are ways to protect yourself. We want to help. This is why we’ve created the following tip sheets based on common complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission. Read on. Protect yourself from becoming a statistic.

File a complaint if you have a problem

For all sorts of everyday consumer problems, there are government resources that can help. Federal agencies like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Consumer Product Safety Commission exist to protect us from unfair or dangerous products. Submitting complaints to government agencies can help resolve your problem AND it helps these agencies hold companies accountable for unfair practices. For more information, consult our tip sheet on the subject, which includes information on how to contact the CFPB with financial complaints, the CPSC with toy and other product safety complaints, the NHTSA with car safety complaints, and DOT with air travel complaints: How to File a Consumer Complaint and Use Government Databases.

Keeping Track of Your Money:

Credit Reports, Credit Scores, and Identity Theft:

Common Consumer Problems:

Please note that these tips are not intended as, nor should they be construed as, legal advice. If you need legal advice dealing with a consumer problem, consult an attorney.

Issue updates

Statement: Johnson & Johnson recalls sunscreen products after tests detect carcinogens

Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. said Wednesday it’s voluntarily recalling all lots of five types of Neutrogena and Aveeno aerosol sunscreen after internal testing showed “low levels of benzene” -- which can cause cancer -- in some samples. J&J also said consumers should stop using the sunscreen.

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Statement: Johnson & Johnson recalls sunscreen products after tests detect carcinogens

Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. said Wednesday it’s voluntarily recalling all lots of five types of Neutrogena and Aveeno aerosol sunscreen after internal testing showed “low levels of benzene” -- which can cause cancer -- in some samples. J&J also said consumers should stop using the sunscreen.

> Keep Reading
News Release | US PIRG | Consumer Tips, Consumer Protection

Consumer tips: What families should know about child tax credit payments that start July 15

Starting Thursday, many families with children under 18 will start getting monthly payments as part of the American Rescue Plan that became law this spring. Eligible families will get payments every month through December by direct deposit or by paper checks or preloaded debit cards that come in the mail. These payments will add up to half the child tax credit you should be entitled to for 2021; you can claim the rest next year when you file your tax return.

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Blog Post | Consumer Tips, Consumer Protection

Waking up to the dangers of inclined infant sleepers | Teresa Murray

If you’re stunned that safety standards for inclined sleepers weren’t required before, get this: The new rules don’t take effect for a year. That’s one of the problems in the world of infant sleep.

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News Release | US PIRG | Consumer Protection

Statement: Safe Sleep Act passes House, awaits vote in Senate

In an effort to protect infants from unsafe consumer products, the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday passed the Safe Sleep for Babies Act of 2021.

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News Release | US PIRG | Public Health, Consumer Protection

Statement: CPSC vote to regulate infant sleep products will save lives

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission approved tough new standards Wednesday to regulate several infant sleep products for the first time.

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News Release | US PIRG Education Fund | Public Health, Consumer Protection

Statement: New FDA plan to reduce toxic metal in baby food falls short

A month after announcing a weak plan to reduce heavy metals in baby food, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a new plan Thursday aimed at making baby food safer over the next several years.

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News Release | TexPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

New report: COVID-19 cases in nursing homes drop by 80 percent after mass vaccinations

Despite a sharp overall drop in coronavirus infections in nursing homes in recent months, hundreds of U.S. nursing homes that weathered 2020 without any COVID-19 cases have reported new cases since 2021 began. This happened even though the elderly were among the first to get COVID-19 vaccines during the initial rollout in mid-December, fueling an 83 percent drop in new cases in nursing homes nationwide by early February. In Texas, new cases dropped by 80.5 percent.

These surprising revelations are among the findings of the third in a series of reports by U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group, based on analyzing government data about nursing homes and COVID-19.

Over the course of the pandemic, the nation’s 15,000 nursing homes have been COVID-19 bellwethers. These new cases are a clear indication that while things are getting better, our society still faces risks from the virus. However, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services this month issued new guidance, relaxing visitation restrictions.

“With nearly 550,000 Americans dead by now, you would think we would have learned our lesson,” said Bay Scoggin, state director of TexPIRG Education Fund. “It seems, unfortunately, that carelessness and impatience could needlessly put lives and communities at risk -- again.”

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A week's worth of help and tips during Consumer Protection Week

Being a consumer is a tough job. Really tough. During National Consumer Protection Week, which runs through March 6, the U.S. PIRG Education Fund staff is offering a daily dose of tips and advice to help you navigate life’s biggest consumer challenges.

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Report | TexPIRG | Consumer Protection

Why You Should Get a Security Freeze before Your Information is Stolen

If and when someone does steal enough of your information to commit any form of identity theft (new account financial identity theft, theft of medical services, theft of tax refunds, etc.) there is really only one type of identity theft that you can stop before it happens: New account identity theft, where someone opens a new account in your name.

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Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Trouble in Toyland 2014

Among the toys surveyed this year, we found numerous choking hazards and five toys with concentrations of toxics exceeding federal standards. In addition to reporting on potentially hazardous products found in stores in 2014, this installment of the report describes the potential hazards in toys and children’s products.

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Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

The Unfriendly Skies

It seems as if every consumer has an airline problem story—how they were trapped on the tarmac, tricked by fees, missed their connection, or lost their bag. What many consumers don’t know is that they have a number of new rights as well as a right to complain, both to the airline and to the government. This report tracks five years of consumer complaints and highlights which airlines received the most complaints and what kinds of complaints were most common.

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Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Debt Collectors, Debt Complaints

This is the fifth in a series of reports that review complaints to the CFPB nationally and on a state-by-state level. In this report we explore consumer complaints about debt collection, with the aim of uncovering patterns in the problems consumers are experiencing with debt collectors and documenting the role of the CFPB in helping consumers successfully resolve their complaints.

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Report | TexPIRG Education Fund | Consumer Protection

Credit Cards, Consumer Complaints

In this report we explore consumer complaints about credit cards with the aim of uncovering patterns in the problems consumers are experiencing with their credit cards and documenting the role of the CFPB in helping consumers successfully resolve their complaints.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Updated Student Resources during COVID-19 Pandemic | Lauren Banister

As the second week of spring break begins, I wanted to update the student resources I sent last week and give you some ways to help others during this unprecedented moment. 

As you know, on March 30th, all classes will resume online and students who live on campus are asked to move out throughout this week. 

Here are a few resources to turn to if you need them:

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Here’s how we’re protecting consumers amid the pandemic | Bay Scoggin

The spread of coronavirus across the country is a serious threat to our health and financial security. We here at TexPIRG are working from home and wishing everyone health, calm, and plenty of hand-washing.

During this time, we must ensure that consumers are protected from those who would take advantage of the pandemic situation and that everyone has access to what they need to stay healthy and prevent the spread of this disease. 

The changes occurring to our daily lives and the whole country is overwhelming. We’ll get through it by working together, so we wanted to offer some information on what TexPIRG is working on.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Student resources during COVID-19 | Lauren Banister

As we enter spring break, I wanted to share some important resources as our campuses transition to online classes. 

This change to our daily lives - and the whole country - may feel overwhelming. We’ll get through it together and so we wanted to offer some information for students who may be especially struggling to adjust to this major transition. 

As you are most likely aware, UT Austin has extended it’s spring break an additional week and will resume classes on March 30th. 

TexPIRG is happy to provide the following resources for students during this time.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

ID Theft & Privacy Checklists | Mike Litt

Today, we're releasing our revamped Identity Theft and Online Privacy resources.

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Blog Post | Consumer Protection

Consumer Tips and FAQ about the Equifax Breach | Mike Litt

Hackers gained access to the personal data of over 145 million Americans in the Equifax breach. Here are some recommended actions consumers can take to protect themselves and answers to frequently asked questions.

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Blog Post

Even with the knowledge I’ve gained working as a consumer advocate for several years, getting my finances in order has been a work in progress. 

Blog Post

Until recently, I did not have estate and end-of-life planning in mind, but it was the natural next step in my quest to be a responsible adult, with a nudge from the existential threat of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Blog Post

Advance directives are legal instructions that include a living will (different from a regular will) and a health care proxy. In them, you state what treatments you do or don’t want at the end of your life and who you want making health care decisions for you if you can’t. 

Blog Post

Before listening to In Case You Get Hit By a Bus, I didn’t know about insurance that covers the costs of long-term care, such as home health care or nursing home care, for people who need assistance with daily living activities. 

Blog Post

Getting my finances in order has been a work in progress over several years, starting with tackling credit card debt, paying off my car loan and then building an emergency fund. 

After clearing those hurdles, I set more defined financial goals and plans in motion this year, including automatic deposits into new investment accounts.

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